Sunday, December 02, 2007

Busted Fingernail Blues


If you play fingerstyle or classical guitar, you need pay attention to the nails on your picking hand. You can get away with fake nails, but pretty much, the best tone, especially on nylon-stringed instruments, is with your own keratin.

Length and shape can vary, but you need a bit to get the fullest, roundest tone.

On the other hand -- literally -- the nails are best kept trimmed short, so as not to cause string-buzz when you fret the strings.

Serious guitarists, especially in the classical world, spend inordinate amounts of time fussing with their fingernails. Smoothing, shaping, polishing, so as not to leave any sharp or jagged edges that might snag on something and tear your nail. You learn to zip your fly up with the fretting hand, avoid reaching for anything close to concrete with the right; and some guys even get out of dish-washing, because the hot, soapy water makes their nails soft and they might rip one ...

Sounds silly, but if you are bored, google: guitar + fingernails. Over a third of a million hits. Players take this very seriously.

The joke is, as young guys, we started playing guitar to get girls; as middle-aged men, we now spend way too much time talking to other middle-aged men about our fingernails ...

If you are right handed, you mostly use the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers to pluck the strings. In classical circles, these are denoted by the Spanish words for the fingers, and usually just abbreviated by one letter: Thumb is p; then i, m, and a.

Pretty much, I've been able to keep from breaking a right hand nail for a couple months. I was getting pretty cocky about it.

In the last three days, I have broken all of the ones on the right, save the pinkie. Super-glue didn't help, they are all gone, Jim.

Index on Thursday, in the car, reaching for a water bottle; middle and ring both at the same time on Friday -- the hot tub lid didn't come up. Thumb, last night, while washing dishes ...

Snap, snap, snap, snap!

It really makes a difference in your tone whether you have nails or not. Much softer and quieter with just the fingertips.

Bleh.

3 comments:

Mike said...

Had a buddy back in Virginia, a classical player, who used this epoxy stuff on his nails. Tough; oh yeah, but it would turn black and made his hands look like something that a werewolf would sport. And since he was a HS music teacher, I'm sure it impressed the kids...

Us manly steel string guys just slip on some steel finger picks and we're good to go. Hmmm...if you sharpened these, I expect there might be the potential for a new martial art. It would be a little tough on the strings, though.

Steve Perry said...

I have some skeletonized picks, that offer only a little strip of metal to touch the strings, ProPiks. Still too chinky sounding for me, though they do offer more volume, and I can see how a steel string player would like them. Very much like using your fingertips.

Couple months, all going well, I'll have my own back up and working ...

Anonymous said...

they look like man nails there horible they also look biten!